Monday, October 28, 2013

Introducing New Foods

The best diet for birds is a varied one.  Variety is very important and this is where a lot of people go wrong. All of my birds get some pellets, some seed, either loose or in the form of nutriberries and fresh food daily. The fresh food is different all the time depending on what I have made for them or what I decide to choose. Here are some of the things that I make them for their fresh food meals:

  • Mash - For my mash I usually use a brown rice base.  To that I add vegetables which can be chopped, cut up or food processed depending on your birds and how they prefer their food. Sometimes I use a frozen veggie mix.  I will also sometimes through in some raw pasta, baby food, raw oatmeal and ground flax seed.  Sometimes I add in one of the ready made mixes like Goldenfeast, or Krazy Korn as well. You can be creative.
  • Grain Bake - I just recently learned about these and started making them.  Basically, you fill a baking dish with different grains, cover it with water and bake it for an hour at 350 degrees.  I have put brown rice, pasta, oatmeal, fruits, veggies, just whatever!  Again, you can be creative!
  • Bird bread or muffins - I love to make bird bread or muffins for the birds and they love eating them.  I will sometimes buy a bird bread mix such as Avian Organics or Mama Bird which basically contains everything you need and simply fix that.  Other times, I will use a muffin mix, like Jiffy, add some veggies, seed, pellets or whatever you think your bird will like and cook it up.  The birds love it and it can be a great way to convert a seed only eating bird.
  • Many times I simply cut up veggies for them.  I usually cook sweet potatoes and carrots, but leave things like squash raw.  I offer fruit as well, but more veggies than fruit.  I sometimes offer lettuce, which for the small birds, I hang in the cage.  It doesn't have a huge amount of nutritional value, but it is still enriching and they love it.
  • Chop - You can make a chop by simply chopping or food processing (depending on the size of your bird) and mixing it all together.
  • Dry mixes - I buy different dry mixes and keep them on hand for days when I will be gone long and unable to take out the wetter foods that may spoil.  I offer veggie crisps, dried fruits and veggies, mixes such as My Safe Bird Store's Quacker Jax, Bountiful Harvest or Veggie Crisp.  Sometimes I make my own by throwing in a bunch of dry pasta, some dry cereal like cheerios and shredded wheat, some dried veggies, etc.
  • Other stuff - I save leftover pasta and will throw in some veggies and offer that.  I sometimes make my birds scrambled eggs and a little wheat toast.  I sometimes offer comfort feedings of warmed baby food, mixed with a little oatmeal.  
  • Skewers - Some birds love to eat hanging food.  Try using a skewer and hanging fresh, raw fruits and veggies in the cage.  I like to do corn cob wheels, halved jalapenos, fruit, pepper pieces, just whatever you think your bird might like!
  • Many of these things can be made in large batches and divided up so you have some for now and some to freeze.
  • Remember when feeding fresh food that is wet or moist to take it out of the cage a couple of hours after serving it so that it doesn't spoil.
Merlin enjoying some squash

Iris with a dirty mash face

Argyle eating a rigatoni

 Ivan enjoys a muffin

 Nemo eating some bird bread

Always offer fresh food first thing in the morning.  This is when the birds are most hungry.  I do not ever withhold food to get them to eat something else, but I will feed the things that they eat more readily after having offered them something fresh.

When I am offering a new food to the birds, I usually sprinkle some seed and/or pellet on the top or even incorporate it into the new food to get them to try it.  I have found that when doing vegetables, many birds love corn and peas, so you can try those.  

With some birds, if hold the food, look at the food and even pretend or actually eat the food, they will give it a try.

Most birds will try it if they live with other birds who eat it.  So, if you have groups of birds living together, one may start and get everyone to try it!

I offer it every day and continue to offer it, even if they don't eat it.  It can take quite a while for birds to realize that something is edible and to actually want to try it.

Be creative!  Don't be afraid to try new things, just make sure that they are bird safe.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We tried that and it didn't work...

I am writing this post because I come across this statement both on internet forums and in real life as a behavior consultant. 

Many times when people complain about problem behaviors in their animals (regardless of species) and are given advice they respond that "they have tried that and it didn't work". It is important to keep in mind that in order for our animals behavior to change we have to change our own behavior. As a species, we tend to blame the issues on someone else. The bird is being (insert any label here) hormonal, dominant, mean, jealous, stubborn, etc. when the fact is that the behavior has simply been reinforced (consequences) and the stage has been set for the bird to do it (antecedents). As owners we can control and change antecedents and consequences. In other words, the behavior is sandwiched between two things that change behavior, both of which we can control.

When people tell me that they tried something already and it "didn't work", I don't usually have to look far to see why it didn't work. While not every solution will work for every animal, learning theory doesn't change from individual to individual or even from species to species. Learning theory remains the same across the board. Functional analysis (antecedent-behavior-consequence) remains the same across the board. So, it isn't that it simply doesn't work for that animal, it usually means that there is a problem with how it's being executed.

How a behavior modification or training plan is executed is important. The skill of the trainer comes into play here. For some things, the timing is critical and if it's not right the bird will be confused and may be reinforced or punished for the wrong thing. For instance, let's say that a person asks their bird to step up and the bird bites the owner's hand, which causes the owner to pull their hand away. The bird was probably reinforced for biting. The owner is upset so then asks the bird to step up onto a stick which the bird does and then puts the bird in a time out to negatively punish the behavior. What message could the bird be getting? Probably that biting makes hands go away when he doesn't want to step up and that he got timed out in his cage for stepping up on the stick. It is important and critical even to look at what happens just before (antecedent) and just after (consequence) a behavior to determine if and how it can be modified.

Another problem with owner's execution is with extinction. We know that any behavior that is not reinforced will go away or go extinct. There are some exceptions like if the behavior is a response to stress. If a bird is screaming because he is not getting enough attention, exercise or enrichment then that screaming will not likely go away from ignoring the bird. In this case, the screaming is a symptom of being ignored and is a sign of stress. But, in cases where the bird's needs are met and the bird is screaming for attention ignoring the bird will cause the screaming to go extinct or go away. This is one where people constantly say "we tried ignoring him and it didn't work". The fact is, while they may have tried ignoring the bird, they simply didn't do it long enough. If the bird has learned that screaming brings the outcome of attention, any attention, the bird will keep screaming. Once the owner starts to ignore the screaming to extinguish the behavior, the bird will have an extinction burst which is when the behavior gets worse before it gets better. Many times it is during the extinction burst that the owner caves because the screaming gets worse and they can't cope with it which only cements the behavior even further. The bird has now been taught that if they just keep pushing and persisting, the desired outcome will eventually happen. 

When a behavior has a strong reinforcement history meaning that the animal has practiced doing something and then getting the desired outcome for a long time, the behavior will be more resistant to extinction. 

In the case of screaming, another thing that happens is that the owner "thinks" they are ignoring the behavior, but they aren't. Birds (and dogs) are very good at reading our body language and some of our body language can unintentionally reinforce behavior. I once had clients who had an American Bulldog who would bark at their back door and they said they couldn't get her to stop. She was a big, goofy funny dog and just looking at her made you smile. I asked them if they ever laughed while she did it, they said "yes, all the time". Bingo! When a bird is screaming for attention and the owner is attempting to ignore it, there are a million things the owner could do to reinforce it including, but certainly not limited to flinching, covering their ears, looking in the direction of the cage, turning up the TV, etc, etc. So, keep in mind that the animal, not us, get to decide what is reinforcing and you may have to look at other things going on.

The fact is, extinction can take some time. A bird who has been screaming for attention for 2 years is not going to miraculously stop after 10 minutes of being ignored because there is too much reinforcement history that has supported the behavior. The bottom line is, it takes time. I am not saying it's not frustrating, I wouldn't want to try and ignore a screaming bird for 2 hours, but I didn't make the rules, science did. It isn't always fun, but it IS the way it is.

So, keep in mind that if a behavior modification plan feels like it isn't working, you may need to adjust how you are doing things. You may need to wait longer. You may need to adjust how you are putting the plan into action. You may need modify the consequences or adjust the antecedent, but you will get there.

Changing problem behavior in birds

I wanted to write a post that could help people understand how you can go about changing or modifying problem behavior in their parrots. It is good for people to know this because once you get the concepts, you can apply it to anything. 

Behavior doesn't just "happen", it happens because of what happens before the behavior, or the set up, which is called the "antecedent" and by what happens just after the behavior, which is called the "consequence". The great thing is that, those are both (the antecedent and the consequence) things we can change which will change the animal's behavior. The other great thing is that, we KNOW this. It is scientific, it is proven and we know that it is how it is. It does not change between species, breeds or anything like that, we ALL learn this way. People will blame behavior on all sorts of different things, but the truth is that the behavior is only going to keep happening if it is effective. No animal, human or non-human, does things for no reason. The key really is figuring out what the reinforcement is for the animal as this is what drives the behavior. The reinforcers, of course, are what change from individual to individual. 

In general, I am talking about changing behavior that is considered problem behavior. I want to note that some behavior that people consider "problem" is actually natural, normal behavior for that species. You won't be successful at and shouldn't try completely getting rid of natural behaviors. Excessive screaming can be modified, but not ALL vocalizing. Destroying furniture can be modified, but not ALL chewing. Also, it is important to keep in mind that in order for our animals behavior to change, we have to be willing to change our own behavior first. If no change on our part was required, the problem would have resolved itself.

Finally, keep in mind that animals get better at whatever they practice, so don't let a behavior go on and on before putting together a training plan. If they are doing it over and over and it is being reinforced, it is getting stronger. It is best to figure out how to modify it as early on as you can.

Changing Antecedents 

When you want to change a problem behavior, the first thing to look at is whether not it is possible to simply change the antecedent so that the behavior can't happen. Remember, the antecedent sets the stage. Here are a couple of situations where I could simply change the antecedent:

A dog barks at the front window when the mailman comes to the porch. Here are some antecedents I could change:

1) Do not allow the dog access to the front window before the mailman has come. Simply keep the dog away from the window by keeping him in another part of the house. 

2) Move the mailbox off of the house and onto a stand at the end of the driveway.

3) Close the blinds

Any one of these could work, depending on the dog, the set up of the house, etc. If the dog can run upstairs and see the mailman from another window, then we may have to make sure he can't get to other front windows as well. If the dog is very sensitive to sound and barks even if he can't see the mailman, we may have to move him to a specific area of the house and add white noise. There are a ton of things we can do to change the set up. 

Another example:

A Meyer's Parrot (named Nemo), climbs onto and then guards the garbage can when sitting on the side of it. If you go to reach for him or ask him to step up, he will react by lunging with an open beak. Here are some antecedents I could change:

1) Move the garbage can to someplace in the room where it is more difficult for him to get to and less noticeable to him.

2) Take the garbage can out of the room when he is out of his cage.

3) Put something over the garbage can so that he can't see it and/or on it.

I usually do #1 which works well:)

It should be noted that for the lunging behavior the antecedent would be reaching for him. If I do not mess with him, he minds his own business, cheerfully playing in the garbage can. So, I can make the lunging not happen by just leaving him alone. I actually do this sometimes. When I know I have plenty of time, I let him hang out on the side of the garbage can, leave him alone and when he gets bored he climbs up on the playstand and steps up with no problem. 

Some other examples of changing antecedents are: 

-If you have two birds that fight, do not have them out at the same time. If they aren't out, they can't fight.
-If you have a bird who flies out of the room, shut the door or put up a net or curtain. If it isn't an option, they can't do it.
-If you have a bird who flies at guests who come over, don't have him out when people come over. If he isn't out, he can't fly to them. 
-If you have a bird who chews on the blinds, open the blinds when he is out or move the cage so he can't access the blinds. 

If, for whatever reason you can't change the antecedent or the set up, then you may have to come up with a training plan to modify the behavior.

Changing Behavior

The best training plan, in my opinion, for getting rid of a behavior you don't like is to train an alternative behavior or an incompatible behavior. Teaching an alternative behavior means that you teach the animal to do something else. Teaching an incompatible behavior means that you teach something to the animal that they cannot possibly do at the same time as the behavior you don't like. 

The point is that you teach the animal to do an acceptable behavior INSTEAD of the behavior you don't want him to do. This is what I do if I can't change the antecedent. Frequently, clients will tell me (about their dogs), "I don't want him to jump on people who want to greet him". So, I ask, "What would you like him to do?" Then they say, "I just don't want him to jump" at which point I really push and say, "What do you want him to do when he greets people? What would be acceptable? How about if he sits instead?" They say that would be so great, so we train that. The dog has to sit before greeting a person. It is MUCH easier to train what you want instead of trying to get rid of everything you don't want. You could spend an animals lifetime trying to get rid of all the behaviors you don't like, when simply training a few behaviors REALLY WELL, can give them the information and the tools to be able to do what you ask and get it right.

So, for my problem behaviors from above:

A dog barks at the front window when the mailman comes to the porch.

1) I could train the dog to go lie on his mat quietly when the mailman approaches. He cannot quietly lie on his mat (which is in another room away from the front window) and bark at the mailman at the window at the same time.

2) I could train the dog to come to the owner and sit down when the mailman comes on the porch. 

You can see here that there are a ton of behaviors I could teach the dog to do INSTEAD of barking at the mailman. Depending on the reinforcement history of this behavior, the temperament and learning style of the dog, the skill level of the owners, this could be really easy to do or really challenging. You can see that simply changing the antecedent is much simpler if it is possible.

A Meyer's Parrot (named Nemo), guards the garbage can when sitting on the side of it. If you go to reach for him or ask him to step up, he will react by lunging with an open beak. 

1) I could teach him to follow a target to move him away from the garbage can.

2) I could teach him to climb onto a certain perch on the playstand (near the can).

Some other examples of alternative behaviors are:

-Teaching a bird to talk quietly instead of screaming. 
-To teach a bird to step up with his head upright instead of biting. 
-Teach a bird to go station on a certain perch instead of trying to bite your hand when putting the food bowl in.
-To teach a bird to play on a play stand instead of walking around on the ground. 
-To teach a dog to sit instead of jumping up. 


Like I mentioned before, when animals do a behavior, they are doing that behavior for an outcome or for the reinforcement that follows it. They get something out of it. If we want to build a behavior we have to find out what is reinforcing to the animal and add that immediately after a behavior happens. When we think of reinforcement, we think of food or something that we may be giving in order to strengthen behaviors that we want to teach the animal. Food, attention, play, are all things that we may use to intentionally reinforce an animal, however, the animal is the one who really decides what is reinforing. In other words, I don't get to say that because I like petting my dog a certain way that it is reinforcing, he may be more reinforced by food, or a ball toss, or whatever. The only way to determine whether or not something is reinforcing is to see what happens to the behavior that the intended reinforcement follows. If it happens more frequently or is maintained, it was reinforcing. If the behavior does not happen more often, or happens less, it was NOT reinforcing to the animal. Below is video I made for my clients to explain reinforcers and how they work. These are reinforcers for building behaviors, but remember that there is something that is reinforcing the behaviors that you want to modify also. You aren't giving a piece of food, but make no mistake that the animal is getting something out of it. If they weren't, they wouldn't keep doing it.


Finally, if a behavior is happening that you want to stop happening and you can't change the antecedent then you will need to find out what is reinforcing the behavior and change that. Remember that what reinforces the behavior is what happens right after the behavior happens. Let's figure out what is reinforcing for the animals in the examples above:

A dog barks at the front window when the mailman comes to the porch.

In this case, the dog is alert barking. Every single day the dog alert barks at the mailman and every single day he is reinforced by the mailman going away after dropping off the mail. The mailman did not intend to reinforce that behavior and he didn't leave because the dog barked, but because it happened directly after the dog barked, the barking is reinforced. In this case, it makes more sense to change the antecedent set up and/or teach an alternative behavior since I really can't control the mailman.

A Meyer's Parrot (named Nemo), guards the garbage can when sitting on the side of it. If you go to reach for him or ask him to step up, he will react by lunging with an open beak. 

In this case, the reinforcement for the bird is my backing off or removing my hand. He did not want to be removed from the garbage can to he lunges with an open beak which causes me to remove my hand and the behavior is reinforced. Now, he may also not want me to reach in the can but I am pretty sure it is because he doesn't want to be removed or asked to step up. I am not stupid enough to test out this theory and see what happens if I just reach in as I think I know what the outcome would be and frankly because I have worked around the situation by changing antecedents and/or simply not reaching for him, it doesn't matter. 

Some examples of things that can be reinforcing to birds. Keep in mind that this is by no means a complete list of things that can reinforce a bird, nor will all of these be reinforcing to every bird:

-Getting food
-Getting attention
-Getting scratched or pet
-Excitable tone of voice/excitement
-A reaction (for some birds, a reaction of any kind can reinforce a behavior, even a flinch or yelling at the bird)
-Increasing distance from someone (moving the person away)
-Chewing on wood or other things including, but not limited to pens, keyboards, furniture, paper, boxes, plastic, books, etc, etc, etc
-Shredding stuff

In any situation that has problem behavior we have to look at what sets it up (antecedents) and what keeps it going (reinforcement). Change the antecedent and/or remove the reinforcement and the behavior will stop happening. This is easier said than done sometimes as it can take good observation skills as well as good mechanical skills sometimes to change behavior. As Bob Bailey says, "Training is simple, but not easy."

Negative Punishment

It is also sometimes possible to change behavior by removing something that the animal wants in order to make a behavior go away. For instance, if I am working on step up with a bird, using a tested reinforcer (like a seed) that I have determined the bird really likes as a lure and he tries to bite me, I can remove my hand AND the opportunity for reinforcement for just a few seconds, before giving the animal the opportunity to make the right choice for which he can be rewarded.

Some examples of negative reinforcement are:

A bird screams for attention and the owner leaves the room. You are removing what the bird wants, YOU, immediately after the behavior of screaming happened.

A dog jumps up on the owner and the person turns away. The owners attention is removed immediately following hte jumping. 

Remember if you use negative reinforcement to be sure to reinforce the animal when they make the right choice. In other words, any time the bird is quiet you need to reinforce that. At first, frequently and then you can build duration of quiet periods up from there. For the stepping up, you would reinforce with the seed EVERY time the bird does the behavior correctly. The other thing to keep in mind is that in order for negative punishment to be effective, it has to happen every time. If the animal is reinforced some of the time for the problem behavior that will still keep the behavior strong.

In general my go to is:

1) Change antecedent if possible

2) Train an alternative or an incompatible behavior

3) Possibly consider negative punishments, but I would try to change it with the first two options.

I hope that this helps some and that it gives people a better idea about how they can use these tools to change behavior in their birds.

Learning theory basics

I thought I would do a post about learning to help people understand how our birds learn.

Operant Conditioning

In operant conditioning an animals learns from consequences. There are four quandrants or possible consequences. Keep in mind that positive and negative refer to plus or minus, not good or bad. Punishment isn't always painful or scary and reinforcement isn't always fun and rewarding.

Positive Reinforcement (+R)
Positive reinforcement means that something pleasant happens to the animal after a behavior. For instance, if your bird steps up when asked and is then given a sunflower seed, this is positive reinforcement. It causes a behavior to happen again.

Negative Reinforcement (-R)
Negative reinforcement means that something unpleasant is taken away after a behavior to make the behavior happen again. For instance, a bird is growling at a person for being too close, the person stands there until the bird stops stops growling, and once the growling stops the person moves away. The bird was negatively reinforced. The problem with this quandrant is that in order to take the negative thing away it has to first be presented so it causes an aversive to the animal.

Positive Punishment (+P)
Positive punishment means that something aversive happens to the animal after a behavior. It may cause the animal to not do that behavior again. For instance, a bird screams and is then squirted with water, if the frequency of screaming goes down the bird has been positively punished for screaming. There are some issues with positive punishment. The first is that you can get fallout in which the animal begins to associate the punishment with the person doling it out which can cause some other issues. Also, if the behavior does not go down in frequency but only stops during the actual punishment, the behavior is just being surpressed not extinguished.

Negative Punishment (-P)
Negative punishment means that something pleasant is removed after a behavior to cause a behavior to go down in frequency. For instance, a bird screams for attention, the owner then leaves the room. If the behavior goes down in frequency the behavior has been negatively punishment. The owner took away it's attention which the bird wanted.

Punishment makes a behavior go down in frequency, reinforcement makes a behavior go up in frequency.

Many consequences can flow into each other and be more than one quadrant. Many trainers, myself included, recommended trying to use only positive reinforcement and sometimes negative punishment to train animals, rather than training with aversives.

An easy way to remember how operant conditioning works is to think of training as ABC. Antecedent = Behavior = Consequence. The antecedent is what causes the animal to do something, the behavior is what the animal does, the consequence is what happens after. Here is an example:

Antecedent - owner presents a stick for the bird to step up onto

Behavior - bird steps up onto stick

Consequence - the bird gets a sunflower seed.

Classical Conditioning

Where operant conditioning has to do with consequences, classical conditioning has to do with associations and emotions.

Classical conditioning is where an animal learns from associations and sometimes predictions. Classical conditioning has to do with emotions to certain things in that the animal doesn't think about it, it just feels it.

Here are some examples: 

Every morning you prepare your birds food and use the microwave to heat up their food. Your bird could start vocalizing, or getting very excited, or very happy when hearing the microwave because the microwave predicts to the animal that breakfast is coming. One of my dogs begins salivating as I begin to fill the bowls with food. Every night there is a small puddle of drool in front of him as he waits for his dinner. He isn't "doing" this, it just happens because he has learned that my putting food in bowls in that room means he will be eating soon.

Here is another dog example since I can't think of a bird one at the moment. My friend has a dog that potties in her backyard on the grass and has every day since she came home as a puppy. One day she is in the backyard playing on the grass and she gets stung repeatedly by wasps. She can no longer go in the backyard alone and cannot go potty in the yard. She has learned that the backyard is a scary place and doesn't want to go there. Incidentily, this is a case of "single event learning" where one single event can have a very strong and lasting impact on an individual.

If you have a nervous bird that gets fearful when you approach the cage and every day you walk by and drop a delicious treat into his bowl eventually, over time his emotional response to you approaching will be excitement instead of nervousness. The bird began to associate you with the yummy treat.

Things to do with a new bird

So many people come on here with new birds asking what they should and shouldn't do that I thought I would put a short list together of things that owners of new birds could do to build a good relationship with their bird. These things can be done with all new rehomes, rescues or baby birds.

1. Reward stepping up. Whether you have to teach the bird to step up or the bird already steps up, it is smart to reward each step up with a treat for quite a while. This will build a strong reinforcement history of stepping up for you with your new bird. Not only does it reinforce the actual behavior of stepping up, it also helps the bird to realize that YOU are reinforcing to be with and around. Sometimes people will just say "good bird" and this can be okay, but with a new bird you don't know how much you saying "good bird" actually matters to the bird. In an established relationship with a bird you know well, you may have learned that other things like verbal praise, petting, touching are reinforcing but with a new bird you don't know if the bird actually finds those things reinforcing which is why it is best to use food, a primary reinforcer in the beginning stages.

2. Reward vocalizations that you like. Many birds end up screaming because it gets them attention. A lot of birds who scream likely offered many other vocalizations such as whistling, talking, chattering, etc that went ignored. They did not get the attention they were seeking until they upped their vocalizations to screaming which caused their owner to scream along with them or engage in some other way. So, be sure to reinforce with food or attention any vocalizing that you like from your bird. You should also reinforce when your bird is quiet so that your bird learns that being quiet is reinforcing will earn him attention and treats. Playing quietly on their own should also be rewarded.

3. Encourage foraging and playing with toys. I have been able to get most of my birds to forage and play with toys, by continuing to try different toys and foraging ideas. If your bird "doesn't play with toys" keep trying different toys of different types of materials to see what your bird likes. It can take birds (especially ones that have never been given toys) a while to try them out, but even my 35 year old Amazon who wasn't given toys before coming here loves toys now. I just had to experiment with different ones. If you plastic toys don't work, try a shreddy toy, if shreddy doesn't work try wood, if wood doesn't work, try paper. There are so many toys out there and something is bound to click with your bird. I have found that baby birds are very receptive to toys and foraging so if you get a baby bird, definitely introduce these concepts early. Toys and foraging ideas don't have to be expensive, there are many things you can use around your house. I routinely give my Meyers a hunk of 2 x 4 wood or a cardboard box to chew on. He loves these more than any toy and they are just lying around my house. Check out Parrot Enrichment for foraging and homemade toy ideas.

4. Develop a routine but include some flexibility in the routine so that your bird can cope with slight changes in the routine. For example, all my birds eat fresh breakfast first thing in the morning. Throughout the day different birds are let out to play on play areas, trip around, etc. I switch around who comes out first and where they play, so there is always some flexibility there. Also, while most of them come out daily, there are some days when some birds don't come out at all. This is necessary because there are times (usually only once or twice a month) where my birds are not out of their cages. Most days I play music in the bird room, but some days I don't. I do not change the times of their meals, those always remain the same. It is very important that new birds are introduced to being alone, playing with toys and entertaining themselves early on so that they are able to cope with this on a regular basis. Even if you never have to leave your bird alone, you should still get them used to this because your life could change and it is important that your bird can deal with it. 

5. Start offering a variety of fresh foods right away. You can and should continue to feed your bird what he was eating prior to coming to you but you should also immediately start offering a variety of fresh foods to your bird. Vegetables, fruit, brown rice, pasta, bird breads are all things that you can begin to offer your bird. If you have a bird that is not used to eating fresh foods, don't give up and just keep doing it!! You can get creative and try hanging fresh greens or herbs in the cage. You can make bird bread or muffins and sneak veggies into those. Most birds can learn to enjoy a healthy varied diet it just may take some time for them to get brave enough to try it! If your new bird was not eating a healthy diet in their previous home, begin to offer the new, healthier foods right away so that you can transition the bird to a healthier way to eat.

6. Find out how your bird likes to bathe and offer bathing opportunities. I find that my new birds flourished when given bathing opportunities. Many of them enjoy simply being sprayed down with a water bottle set on mist. My conure doesn't like misting at all, but prefers to bath in her water dish. My amazon likes to bathe in the shower with me in there too! Figure out how your bird likes to bath and then offer this to them. Giving them something reinforcing to them like the opportunity to bathe only helps to strengthen the relationship you are developing with your bird. 

7. Learn to read your birds body language and respect what your bird is trying to communicate. A bird that bites has likely given much earlier warning signals that went ignored prior to deciding to bite. Take your time learning how to read your birds body language so that you will know when it's time to back off and when it's time to move forward.

8. When it comes to training the best thing to do is to use positive reinforcement to reward any behaviors that you like. Positive reinforcement means that you do something the bird likes such as offer a treat, give a scritch, give attention to or give access to something right after your bird does a behavior that you like. For instance, if you say "step up" and offer your hand and your bird steps up you immediately hand the bird a treat. Again, it is advised to use food in the beginning since with a new bird you may not know the bird well enough to know what things will be rewarding. Once you learn other rewards the bird likes you can use those as well as food. Using positive reinforcement to build behaviors you like will allow you to not only train your bird but also to help strengthen the relationship you have with your bird. Never use aversives like yelling at a bird, hitting a bird, throwing things at the bird or cage or squirting with water. This will only teach your bird that you are not trustworthy and will cause your bird to be fearful of you. Any and every time you use punishment with your bird you are breaking trust and damaging your relationship with that animal. Don't do it! For more information on training check out The Parrot Problem Solver and Good Bird by Barbara Heidenreich.

9. Most importantly, don't pressure, push or force your new bird at all. This is by far the biggest mistake people make. They want a relationship with a new bird so badly that they destroy any possibility of that happening by pushing the bird or trying to force the bird to be with them. If your bird is fearful of hands, don't attempt to hold it with your hand instead try training the bird to step onto a stick or cover your hand with a long sleeved shirt. If your bird doesn't want to come out of his cage, simply open the door and leave him alone. Whatever you do, do not set up situations where you feel you have no choice but to force the bird. Good, strong, healthy bird/human relationships are built on trust, communication and mutual respect, they are never built on fear, force or intimidation.